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Sir Trevor Skeet : I am a little perturbed by the Government's attitude. I would have thought that it was crucial to understanding the Bill, and certainly to many of the penalties involved and some of the offences involved, that the Government gave certain backing to hon. Members who will be making arguments. However, I am afraid that we have had none of it.
The Government's standing is unique. The revenue to the Government is £8.5 billion per year. The employment provided is more than 11,000, but overall it is about 150,000.
Sir Trevor Skeet : If we take those people engaged directly and indirectly in the industry, it comes out at about 150,000. Retail sales come to the enormous figure of £10 billion per annum. I thought that the Government would have moved to do something to protect their involvement, particularly because a voluntary agreement has been negotiated. I do not know whether the agreement has been accepted but I assume that it has. If so, what will be the Government's understanding of it ? Why does not the Minister spring to his feet and tell the House the exact position before we commence debate on these technical amendments ?
Mr. John Carlisle : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because he has immediately put his finger on the pulse of what the Bill is all about. He is right to express some disappointment that Her Majesty's Government--we understand that they have concluded a voluntary agreement-- did not announce it before the Bill. Of course, that might have made some of the amendments that we tabled a little superfluous. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Will he bear in mind that the voluntary agreement should have been announced before today's proceedings so we might have been better informed ?
Sir Trevor Skeet : I am patient, but I ask the Minister once again to come to the Dispatch Box and say whether an agreement with the industry has been reached. It will be the 11th agreement since 1971. If so
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. We are discussing the amendment. I do not think that the Government's policy and any agreement reached last night or at any other time have anything whatever to do with it.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I appreciate that, but we have had several points of order on the issue. It is difficult to argue even technical points on the Bill if we do not know the state of arrangements on which the whole matter is being debated today.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has a long experience in the House. I am sure that he does not need the Chair to tell him any more that we are now discussing the amendment, and he should relate his remarks to it.
"Subject to the following provisions of this section, if any person publishes or causes to be published through advertisement for a tobacco product, he shall be guilty of an offence."
The Bill is replete with offences and I shall consider some of the penalties involved in it. However, we should add at the end of the clause the words :
"and for the purposes of this section, an advertisement shall not be deemed to have been published if it is comprised in or enclosed with a card, letter or other document sent by a person to one or
Column 448other persons".
It was fairly obvious from the start that that is one of the omissions from the Bill.
Before we consider the matter in a little detail, I refer hon. Members to clause 7, which says :
"In this section, advertisement for a tobacco product' includes any form of communication".
If it is any form of communication, it may be not merely an advertisement but a letter or a video.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : As the promoter of the Bill, I shall explain briefly to the hon. Gentleman that the reason why the clause would never have been accepted is that it is one of those areas that is trying to get to young children in terms of encouraging them to use tobacco products. I have a press cutting from the Express and Echo , which is an Exeter paper, which says that a worried father has been left fuming after his 11-year-old daughter was specially selected in a tobacco company promotion which came through the door in an envelope.
The Bill is about stopping tobacco companies from getting to young people and encouraging them to use tobacco products. There is no way that I, or anyone with any sense who is concerned about public health, would accept an amendment to the Bill which would allow that type of promotion to continue and to get to our young children in the way that it did in Exeter.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, but he assumes that everyone is evil and that the industry is not responsible. Since 1971, the industry has negotiated at least 11 revisions of a voluntary arrangement. In the United Kingdom, despite the absence of a ban, tobacco consumption has fallen almost year by year by 30 per cent. That is not evidence of irresponsibility. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that there is much legislation on the subject. There is the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986 and, to my knowledge and concern, we have the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991. 10 am
Children concern us all. I have children, and the hon. Gentleman and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may have children, and all are involved in this issue. There is a voluntary arrangement, the content of which I do not know, and the Bill seeks to place further stress by insisting that there may not be communications inviting children to smoke.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of advertising material aimed at children which goes through the letterbox personally addressed to them ? Is that the implication of his amendments ? If not, what practical steps does he suggest to prevent that from happening ? The hon. Gentleman is seeking to weaken the Bill by allowing such communications to continue.
Sir Trevor Skeet : The amendment does not do that. There are two ways to deal with the subject. One is by legislation, and that is the route that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has chosen, but his Bill deals excessively with the subject. The other way is by voluntary agreement, and that agreement covers the point in great detail.
Column 449prepared to conclude a binding voluntary agreement to prevent that sort of direct communication. Does my hon. Friend have such evidence ?
Sir Trevor Skeet : I have a document entitled "Voluntary Agreement on Tobacco Products, Advertising and Promotions and Health Warnings". It is dated September 1991 and was revised on 1 January 1992. The first part of the document covers advertising and promotion and the document deals with cinemas, expenditure on posters and places where posters may not be raised, such as in school playgrounds. If it is suggested that there has been abuse, that is for the judiciary to deal with : it is not a matter that requires the Bill.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : My hon. Friend refers to a document which I do not have. He said that it was dated 1991 and was revised in 1992. If that is effective, why do we see the sort of advertising to which the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has alluded ? Many of us are concerned that voluntary agreements do not seem to be working and that tobacco companies are encouraging our children and grandchildren to smoke. They have been advertising particularly outside schools, and that is outrageous.
Sir Trevor Skeet : Legislation is one thing and its abuse is another. If the legislation is not enforced, it should be. Many of these points will be taken into account by the Minister who has produced a new agreement. It will contain even more strict regulations to ensure that children are not caught by such advertising.
Mr. John Carlisle : The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has virtually accused the tobacco industry of offering direct mailshots to children. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is patent nonsense because such advertising is totally banned by the voluntary agreement. Does my hon. Friend accept that mistakes occasionally occur in direct mailings ? The hon. Member for Rother Valley may have been exhorted by his local Conservative party to subscribe because he is in the A or B socio-economic group in his area and should therefore be voting Conservative. Errors will obviously occur, and the hon. Member for Rother Valley mentioned one and highlighted
Sir Trevor Skeet : We are all involved and we all make mistakes-- that is one of the characteristics of our society. I spoke about the 1992 agreement. I regret that I do not have the modern agreement before me. The rules say that the companies must not advertise to persuade people to start smoking ; they must not use advertisements that will persuade people to smoke to excess ; and they must not exploit those who are specially vulnerable, and that includes young people or those who are immature or who have a physical, social or mental handicap. They must not imply that smoking is healthy, that it is a great recreation, proof of manliness or enhances feminine charm-- [Interruption.] It might improve feminine charm.
The document is one of the most comprehensive that we have, and if people appreciated its content they would
Column 450come to an entirely different conclusion. It would persuade the Bill's promoter to recognise that legislation is unnecessary and that the aim can be achieved by voluntary agreement.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that it is because the voluntary agreement has not been complied with regularly and consistently that legislation is required ? There is no redress through the voluntary agreement.
Sir Trevor Skeet : The voluntary agreement is monitored by an independent body which will make recommendations to the Secretary of State. That is why there were 11 different agreements, each of which brought in certain changes. The idea is that, when a weakness is found, a modification, which may be an improvement, is introduced. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth) has got it wrong when he tries to blame the tobacco industry and the people involved for not enforcing the agreement. That is the job of the judiciary and of the people who have the job of enforcing the agreement.
Mr. Forman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me for a second time. He says that this is a comprehensive voluntary agreement. Does he not agree that, on the evidence of our own eyes and our experience, and on the contents of the factual briefing that has been provided to us, this comprehensive voluntary agreement has been comprehensively ignored ?
Sir Trevor Skeet : My hon. Friend should not be too enthusiastic. One of the clauses states that any form of communication will be an advertisement. That provision is so wide that it will exclude everything except packaging for retail sale. The communication by way of direct mail between manufacturers and any smoker falls under the definition of an advertisement. That is the only reasonable way in which a tobacco company, manufacturer or person engaged in the business can communicate with people who already smoke.
I am quite certain that, when the hon. Member for Rother Valley examines more carefully the Bill and what
Column 451I have to say, he will come to the conclusion that that is one of the mistakes that he is making. His Bill is full of provisions about fines and so forth. One has only to refer to another clause in the Bill to see that.
I think that it should be stressed that we are dealing with amendments to make it possible for people to say that they are complying with the law. But when one finds a level of penalties on summary conviction on scale 5, and on indictment for two years, let me tell the House
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hesitate to keep intervening, but the points that the hon. Gentleman is making can be discussed on later groups of amendments. The hon. Gentleman should stick to the amendments that are being discussed.
"a card, letter or other document"
which would help people to be better informed about what is going on between the manufacturers and the receiver of that communication, may well include, for example, something that would tell them about what they should avoid as well as what they should do ? Furthermore, does he accept that any attempt to restrict that would involve necessarily by way of enforcement the opening of letters to prove that that offence had occurred, which, in the absence of my hon. Friend's provision, effectively would be a very dangerous interference with the liberty of the subject ?
My amendment No. 42, in page 3, line 30, proposes to leave out "retail". I do not know whether the hon. Member for Rother Valley recognises that he perpetrated a fault by the use of certain quantities. They must be of a certain size. Clause 1(7) refers to "packing of such a product in a quantity normally available for retail sale".
If we were to remove "retail", I think that it would make a little more sense.
There are other quantities, including wholesale cartons for cash-and-carry sale, discount at discount clubs and warehouses, not simply those in the normal quantities that are available for resale. I should have thought that he would have considered that and allowed the amendment to be included. It would be an improvement to his Bill.
I now move to amendment No. 85, in page 3, line 44, because I am moving at some speed to accommodate the wishes of the House. It sets out a series of considerations that must be taken into account such as symbols and colour. The purple that one associates with a certain
Column 452company's advertising is well known, but it may have many products for sale. Simply because a symbol or colour is used in a particular context does not mean that it is promoting tobacco products. I think that that should be altered.
Mr. Flynn : Is the hon. Gentleman familiar with the conduct of tobacco companies in Hungary, where tobacco advertising is banned but where companies, particularly Marlboro and Camel, get around the prohibition by using precisely the same colours and logos to advertise other products ? That is a way round a much-needed ban on tobacco advertising, yet we do not feel upset by the prospect of interfering with the sacred right of tobacco companies to kill 110, 000 people a year.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I am not aware of the law of Hungary on the matter-- [Hon. Members :-- "Why not ?"] Many logos are not recommending the sale of tobacco or tobacco products. They might have different colours, but that does not make them unsaleable.
The important thing is that it is legal to sell tobacco. It is a legal product. My hon. Friend is saying that it should not be sold and in fact it should be banned. The limitation on the ban could be inexhaustible.
Mr. Leigh : I wonder whether my hon. Friend will deal more with the point about Hungary. I do not believe what I heard. It really is a case of "Big Brother is watching you". We are not going to ban advertising. We are going to say, "Well, Big Brother says that they are the same colours or the same language." The point made by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is an appalling one to make in a free society. It makes our view stronger than any other.
People do not seem to realise that in countries where there have been bans, as with certain European countries, the experience has been disastrous, because the consumption of tobacco has not fallen. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, where there has been no ban, there has been a drastic fall of some 30 per cent. since 1971 to the current date. I think that that deals with the point about other countries.
Column 453saying that the fact that some companies might use a particular colour does not have any effect. If that is correct, why has there been such an unholy row on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill about companies having own-branded products that are very similar to those with registered trade marks ? If there is no association in colour, text and packaging, why are the supermarkets complaining ?
I now deal with amendment No. 17
Mr. Barron : In relation to the last mention of me that the hon. Gentleman made, he is wrong on two counts : first, I am not his hon. Friend ; and, secondly, the Bill is not intended to ban the sale of tobacco.
Sir Trevor Skeet : It is a strange fact about Members of Parliament that they like to link themselves with many others--not merely on their own side of the House. However, if the hon. Gentleman does not want to be a friend of mine, I will exclude him for good--but I would hesitate to do that.
Amendment No. 17 seeks to add in page 2, line 13,
"(iii) was contained in the directory of business information". It was never intended to exclude that. That is only a technical point, and I ask the hon. Member for Rother Valley to consider it. Amendment No. 22 seeks to leave out lines 21 to 25 in clause 1. Those words are extraordinary. They give as one of the defences in clause 1(4))(d)(ii) that
"at any time of the publication constituting the alleged offence not more than 25 per cent. or 5,000 (whichever is the fewer) copies of which had been imported into the United Kingdom for publication there".
Who is to judge that ? Who thought that one up ? The Bill's originators simply plucked a figure out of the air. That is totally irrational. I plead with the hon. Gentleman--he is no longer my hon. Friend--to withdraw that part of the Bill, which does not make any sense. If he likes to spring to his feet and tell me what one is to construe from that, I shall be glad.
Mr. Barron : The hon. Gentleman refers to an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), who tried to withdraw a group of amendments when I started accepting them in Committee.
Mr. John Carlisle : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that we ought to have the opinion of the Chair. Even when an hon. Member has put his name to amendments, it is possible for him to change his mind during the course of the argument. Am I right in thinking that no rule or steadfast custom prevents hon. Members who have tabled amendments from subsequently disagreeing with them, even in a Division ?
Sir Trevor Skeet : I apologise for speaking so long. I was attempting to improve the Bill by dealing with some of its technicalities, suggesting that a broad view be taken of them and arguing that certain of the Bill's faults be rectified. Apparently, the Bill's supporters want to bulldoze it through the House, which would be iniquitous. The Bill should be fully and properly considered.
Mr. Alan Howarth : I share my hon. Friend's impatience with quibbles over technicalities. We should be considering points of essential principle. Is not at the heart of our consideration the fact that tobacco kills 300 people each day and that the industry advertises to replenish the ranks of its victims ? Since the majority of people who take up smoking are young, whatever may be the industry's protestations, its advertising must be pitched at young people.
My hon. Friend responded approvingly to my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who put forward the case for freedom of expression. However, does my hon. Friend regard it as being within the bounds of freedom--in a decent, liberal society--to allow an institution to spend £100 million a year